I recognize Roe v. Wade as the definitive law guaranteeing a woman’s right to choose. I believe that that choice is an intensely private, often difficult one which should be made in consultation with a knowledgeable, board-certified physician and without coercion of any kind.
If, as a society, we want to reduce the number of abortions performed annually, we should not reduce “supply” by reducing access to a legal medical procedure. Instead, we should work on the other end of the equation — reducing “demand” by reducing unwanted pregnancies and by demonstrating our commitment, as a society, to fully supporting those who choose to bring a baby to term. This means: educating, equipping and empowering sexually-active adults and minors to make informed choices prior to conception (i.e. providing sex education & sexual health information), ensuring affordable/readily-available contraception, guaranteeing “morning after” pill accessibility, offering adoption placement incentives, and protecting vital government supports – such as WIC, HeadStart, quality public education, etc. It also means committing ourselves, as a nation, to caring for and about unplanned/unwanted children – not just until they are born, but for a lifetime.
Citizens United & Campaign Finance
Corporations are not people, and money is not speech. The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision to the contrary profoundly altered the dynamics of the electoral system – for the worse. Now, corporations can powerfully influence – and even bully — candidates and legislators based on their contributions to PACs, political parties, issue groups, and political opponents.
The Supreme Court’s willingness to remove limits on contributions places disproportionate influence in the hands of the very wealthy – who may or may not share the national majority view on any given issue. I agree with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg that “by having these limits [on contributions], you are promoting democratic participation. Then the little people will count some and you won’t have the super-affluent as the speakers that will control the elections.”
Determining and fulfilling the will of the people will be increasingly difficult for Congress so long as wealthy corporations and wealthy individuals are able to exercise “free speech rights” which most Americans cannot. I support campaign finance reform which will level the playing field for both citizens and candidates.
Deficit Reduction & the Debt
The deficit has been cut nearly in half over the past four years – despite the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and the enormous costs of a Wall Street bailout, the war in Iraq, and continued tax breaks for America’s wealthiest individuals and corporations.
As we continue to dig out of a long, difficult recession, we must ensure that we do not put our economic recovery in jeopardy with draconian budget cuts to key programs like Social Security and Medicare. Our most fundamental values as Americans compel us to put a hedge of protection around the most vulnerable members of our society. We must not balance the budget at the expense of our children, our senior citizens or the lowest-income Americans. Threatening vital safety nets for the most vulnerable would not resolve our budget issues; it could actually compound them while undermining our values.
Instead, I believe we should enact comprehensive tax reform that eliminates deductions, loopholes and giveaways that unfairly favor the wealthy, and develop a bipartisan strategy for reviving and protecting America’s middle class. More middle-class jobs mean lower unemployment costs (both direct and indirect) and greater tax revenue – both of which reduce our nation’s debt.
To strengthen our nation’s global economic competitiveness, we need to equip our country’s children with an excellent education. To do so, we must turn around failing schools, promote investment in early learning, encourage significant family involvement, support underpaid and overextended teachers, help low- and middle-income families save for college, and shift our focus from teaching-to-the-test to teaching-for-learning’s-sake. We must motivate and reward success in the classroom without creating incentives to cheat (as happened in metro Atlanta’s school system under Superintendant Beverly Hall).
Recent international test scores show American students falling behind their counterparts from Europe and Asia in reading, math and science skills. This has to be our wake-up call. We need to invest in STEM teaching and learning; science, technology, engineering and mathematics will be form a critical skill set for the next generation. We must also find ways to leverage internet-based learning to make education more accessible, engaging and affordable.
As we work to make these changes and improvements, I am wary of increasing calls to privatize public education in a for-profit business model. I believe doing so is likely to lead to a tiered system of educational quality that correlates to income (or lack thereof) to a greater degree than already exists. Such a system would likely reinforce existing race and class distinctions and run contrary to the American ideal of equal opportunity for all.
Energy Policy and the Environment
There is no doubt that human beings are healthier in an environment of clean air and clean water. And, there is no doubt that human activity directly impacts its surrounding environment. So, the scientific argument for environmental protection laws is clear. The need for these protections has become a worldwide issue as greenhouse gas emissions have accelerated global warming, and the resulting climate changes have threatened our safety and our economy.
I believe the debate over global warming is driven primarily by those whose financial interests are negatively impacted by accountability. We must sidestep that distraction and focus on finding a healthy balance between economic interests and stewardship of our environment. Specifically, we must reduce our carbon footprint and push our global competitors to do the same. Intelligent environmental regulation, appropriately enforced, does not have to be the enemy of economic opportunity or individual freedom. As we seek clean(er) energy alternatives, we must balance the urgent need for innovation with the need for continued economic growth and job creation/protection.
To that end, I would approach discussions of energy policy supporting a carbon tax to further reduce emissions (beyond cap and trade), and supporting expanded investment in clean energy alternatives like wind, solar and biofuels. I would also support incentives for businesses willing to invest in clean energy manufacturing. I would not support the Keystone XL pipeline which would generate more carbon emissions from burning dirty tar sands oil, nor would I support financial incentives or safety exemptions for fracking given significant concerns about the associated risks to the environment (most specifically to the water supply).
Guns & Background Checks
Recently, numerous school shootings and workplace assaults have pitted Americans’ right to life and liberty against the second amendment right to bear arms. The gun lobby has manufactured a “crisis” by declaring efforts to insure safety in public venues (such as schools, workplaces, airports, bars or houses of worship) a threat to gun-owning citizens. I disagree.
I support the second amendment right to bear arms. And, with that right come certain responsibilities. Among them, I believe, are the responsibility to use guns solely for sport hunting or legitimate self-defense, and the responsibility to insure that no harm comes to another citizen as a result of that weapon’s illegal or inappropriate use.
To that end, I support all reasonable means of limiting access to guns by persons who have been identified as dangerous — whether or not they have been diagnosed with a mental disorder. I agree with a majority of Americans that background checks should be required for all gun purchases – regardless of venue. And I disagree with those who claim these safety precautions infringe on a citizen’s right to own a weapon. I consider the ability to track a gun and/or its record of ownership a valuable tool in the fight against gun violence.
Healthcare Reform/Affordable Care Act
As a physician, I feel strongly about every person’s right to accessible, affordable healthcare. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is a significant step in the direction of healthcare for all. We are the last nation in the industrialized world to move toward this achievable goal, and I believe it’s long overdue.
Americans now have new rights – to free preventive care, guaranteed coverage despite a preexisting condition, no more annual or lifetime limits, and more – which dramatically reduce the financial worry associated with a family member’s illness. But, because Georgia’s governor declined $40 billion in federal funding (over the next decade) for Medicaid expansion, approximately 650,000 Georgians will remain uninsured. Meanwhile, Grady Hospital, the state’s primary “healthcare safety net” hospital, will be forced to cut its clinical services. Similar stories have played out in 25 other states.
I have taken a strong stand in support of ACA and against Governor Deal and Insurance Commissioner Hudgens – not because this law is ideal, but because it is a step in the direction of better healthcare for more Georgians. I believe there are significant improvements that can and should be made to this legislation, but its basic premise is morally sound: healthcare should be a right for all Americans, not a privilege for some.
America’s current immigration system is badly broken. There is a strong consensus (voiced most recently by the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce) that we can and should act to reform that system – and do it now. I support that thinking. We must encourage the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants to come out of the shadows, comply with the law, pay fines and taxes, and integrate themselves fully into the life of our nation. At the same time, we must remember that employment verification is vital to protecting American labor. The widespread hiring of undocumented labor at substandard wages and working conditions must be outlawed (and the law enforced) so that all workers compete for employment solely on the basis of effort and ability.
I believe we must establish an efficient and predictable pathway for legal immigration that incorporates border security, clears the backlog of immigrants awaiting green cards, and insures our immigration detention and court systems are both fair and humane. Considering how broken our immigration system is now, these would be huge steps in the direction of a modern, effective system that reflects our values and makes our nation stronger.
Middle-income workers are increasingly being pushed into lower-wage jobs. Many of them displace less-skilled, lower-income workers, who become unemployed or are forced to work fewer hours. Rates of unemployment for the lowest-income families – those earning less than $20K per year – have recently topped 21%, nearly matching the rate for all workers during the 1930’S Great Depression.
This trend is dangerous and unsustainable.
My background in economics and finance tells me that job creation is the engine that will revive our nation after the Great Recession, restore the disappearing middle class, and propel us toward a future in which the American Dream is once again achievable.
I believe our focus must be on investing in education (particularly STEM), high-tech manufacturing, clean energy and repairing/augmenting America’s infrastructure (i.e. roads, railways, bridges, etc). To that end, I support the rapid expansion of MOOC’s and other forms of free/affordable education that can equip the workforce. I also support programs and businesses that train workers in IT, high-tech manufacturing and transportation, thereby enhancing their productivity as well as our nation’s global competitiveness. I endorse incentives for companies that bring jobs back to the U.S. and hire American workers; I also believe we should eliminate the tax incentives for companies sending jobs overseas. And, I support investment in clean energy that creates sustainable jobs and reduces our dependence on foreign oil.
Americans’ median income is less than 24 years ago, and 46.5MM Americans are living in poverty. In the 1950s, most workers supported their families with one job. Today it often takes three. In many families, both husband and wife must work, and frequently one of them has two jobs. Meanwhile, productivity has soared and workers create more wealth now than ever before.
Where does the wealth go? To the CEOs and investors. Meanwhile, America’s middle class is disappearing.
Increasingly, income inequality is pushing Americans into two categories: the “Haves” and the “Have Nots.” The top 1% of American households has 38% of all American wealth, while the bottom 60% has 2.3% of it. And, from 2009-2112, 95% of all new income went to the top 1%. As a result, the middle class is steadily sliding toward poverty and away from the American Dream. Things must be brought back into balance.
I believe we begin with a living wage. There is no excuse for hunger, homelessness, and poverty among American workers today. The 15MM Americans who earn a minimum wage of $7.25 should be able to work a 40-hour week and afford to rent an apartment and still put food on the table. “Right to Work” laws undermine this, and I am opposed to them for that reason. Labor unions give “Have Nots” a collective voice at the bargaining table, and I support them for this reason.
LGBT & Marriage Equality
As a board-certified psychiatrist, I am confident that sexual orientation is genetically-determined, rather than a matter of choice or predisposition. As a result, I see no basis for judging, condemning or discriminating against a person in response to his/her sexual orientation. By extension, I believe our government should not discriminate on the basis of a genetically-determined trait (be it race, ethnicity, sex, or sexual-orientation).
Therefore, just as the rights and privileges associated with marriage were extended from same-race heterosexual couples to interracial heterosexual couples (in 1967), I believe they should now extend to same-sex couples of any race who wish to make a lifelong commitment to one another.
As a Christian, I acknowledge every church’s right to accept or deny a government-authorized marriage as a sacrament. But I also agree with Pope Francis who, when asked recently about homosexuality, responded, “Who am I to judge?”
NSA vs. Privacy
We live in a country that affords us relative peace and safety, thanks to the efforts of our national security communities. That comfort comes at a price: periodic government intrusion into our lives. I believe strongly in the need to place reasonable limits on the NSA (and other national security organizations) in order to protect individual freedoms.
I believe we must ensure that our desire to identify, thwart and prosecute terrorists does not needlessly infringe on the privacy and freedom of innocent citizens. Every national security agency within our government must be accountable to the American people; we must ensure that the civil rights of all Americans are respected and protected by those in government who have taken an oath to serve. I add my voice to the call for rigorous oversight of any surveillance imposed upon American citizens and any data gathered as a result. And, I support the constitutionality of our nation’s privacy laws.
Syria & International Intervention
I strongly opposed bombing Syria when President Obama asked for Congressional approval to do so in response to Syria’s use of chemical weapons on its own citizens (August 2013). Instead, I advocated for redoubled diplomatic efforts and a leadership role in an international humanitarian response to the exploding refugee crisis. Countless Syrian civilians’ lives were saved when President Obama chose diplomacy over bombardment. Now, Syria’s chemical weapons are rapidly being documented — prior to being destroyed, and this success appears to have opened other doors of diplomacy with countries we had previously regarded as unwilling to negotiate.
I do not believe we can or should be the world’s policemen. I believe we must turn away from the temptation to consider wars-of-choice wise just because they can be executed “efficiently,” “tactically,” in a “controlled” manner, or with little apparent risk to American lives. I also believe we cannot confuse our egos with our rights or responsibilities. We must reclaim our position as an international model of democracy by living out our ideals from a position of moral authority, always being accountable for our actions and their impact on other countries.
My 8/8/13 OpEd detailed my concern for our nation’s veterans and their mismanaged care in Atlanta’s VA. That editorial was an extension of ongoing efforts — through a nonprofit I founded — to call attention to veterans’ significant, growing, and largely unmet mental health needs. Those needs are the tip of the iceberg.
Our veterans have returned from extended deployments and combat to find their homes foreclosed, jobs scarce, and the American public largely oblivious to the heavy price our soldiers in uniform have paid to protect their fellow Americans. Literally adding insult to injury, veterans’ disability benefits are delayed every time Congress forces a government shutdown. Our servicemen and women deserve better.
I will push to expand the current GI Bill to add greater education and training opportunities for unemployed veterans, support incentives for companies to employ disabled vets, back initiatives to end homelessness and unscrupulous foreclosure practices that affect veterans, support increased funding and greater oversight for veterans’ healthcare, and do everything possible to reduce wait times for vets in need of mental healthcare.
The Supreme Court’s June 13th 2013 decision declaring section 4 of The Voting Rights Act unconstitutional voided a rule requiring certain states to get Justice Department approval before changing their election laws. Although section 5 was not struck down, it was effectively undermined by this decision.
The result? Several of the former pre-clearance states immediately introduced new voting requirements which will profoundly impact certain voter subgroups (e.g. minorities, college students). These include strict voter ID, decreased early voting periods, fewer polling place, and elimination of same-day registration. I consider these attempts to disenfranchise subgroups of voters an assault on constitutional rights; in our democracy, voting is a right, not a privilege.
I wholeheartedly support DOJ action to protect voter rights in the face of these state initiatives. And, I emphatically endorse the recently proposed bipartisan pre-clearance (reinstatement) bill.